Longtime fugitive Luis Armando Pena Soltren was wanted for his role in the Nov. 24, 1968, hijacking of a Pan Am flight bound for Puerto Rico. The 66-year-old Soltren was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport, authorities said.
Soltren was expected to be arraigned Tuesday in Manhattan on a 1968 indictment.
"As the 1968 charges allege, he terrorized dozens of passengers when he and his cohorts wielded pistols and knives to hijack Pan American flight 281," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement Sunday.
A spokeswoman for federal prosecutors would not say how Soltren came to the U.S. The FBI didn't immediately return a call requesting comment.
It was at JFK airport in 1968 that Soltren and accomplices boarded the Pan Am flight and hijacked it, according to an indictment filed in federal court in Manhattan. The flight, bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico, was diverted to Havana, Cuba.
Dozens of U.S. flights were hijacked and diverted to Cuba in the 1960s. Some of the flights were hijacked by self-described radical leftists, fugitives seeking asylum on the Caribbean island or criminals scheming to extort money from the U.S. government or from the airline companies.
Pan American Flight 281 was commandeered by three men who forced their way into the flight cabin and ordered the crew to fly to Cuba, instead of Puerto Rico, according to a criminal complaint.
Weapons and ammunition were sneaked onto the flight in a diaper bag, the court papers said.
Two of the men, Jose Rafael Rios Cruz and Miguel Castro, were arrested in the mid-1970s and pleaded guilty to their roles in the skyjacking, a spokeswoman for federal prosecutors said.
Another man, who was not on the flight but was described in the criminal complaint as a leader of the Puerto Rican Movement for Liberation, was indicted in the hijacking. He was found not guilty on all charges.